Oh Sheffield, I might not show it but I still love you.

If like most sensible people you watched The Big Melt on Sunday evening you would have seen the City of Sheffield in all its glory.

The Big Melt


The film is a stirring mix of music and video showing the city, its people and its industry. I recognised some of the places and  factories shown. My Grandfather was a plumber at Samuel Fox and Son.  I worked at a company that was a spin off from Moore and Wright who had developed the world's first digital micrometer, so there was a lot of personal nostalgia and connections in the film.

But the film like  shows a world that no longer exists.  Gone are the multitude of Steelworks producing the steel that built the cars and bridges shown in the film.  Gone too are the the  hundreds of chimneys of those steelworks spewing out the pollution and filth through the valley and gone too are the jobs employing  thousands of workers with just a handkerchief , Donkey jacket and a bucketful of good luck  to protect them from the molten metal and fiery furnace they were working at.

There are many people who want the return of  those so called  'good old days'  often forgetting the poverty and poor health that accompanied them.  I'm not one of them. The days of a single industry providing mass employment to an entire city are gone.  Automation and mechanisation means that in the western world at least it will always be cheaper to install robots and machines than to rely on strength and brute force of people working from the day they leave school until they retire or drop dead.  And thats how it should be.

But there needs to be jobs to take the place of the lost manual, industrial work and that doesn't seem to be happening.

The Centre for Cities has published its Cities Outlook 2014 report today and it makes me sad that Sheffield seems to be at  or near the bottom in most of the measures.

From the Guardian article :

"Highlighting the need for better infrastructure, investment in skills and reforms to planning, the report noted that Bradford,Sheffield, Bristol,Southampton, Blackpool and Glasgow saw employment shrink in both private and public sectors."

Probably one of the most worrying points of that report is the note that for digital connectivity "Of the large cities, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield all had access rates lower than the city average."

For a City wanting to grow its digital and creative sectors this is a big worry.

That Guardian article is all about people migrating from provinces to London and not returning.   I resisted leaving Sheffield for a long time, I was born and brought up there,I returned there after University,  I still love it dearly and I know that a lot of people who live there still find it an amazing place.  But for me I couldn't find anything to get excited about any longer,  I had explored its nooks and crannys, wondered down the back streets and ginnels. There will be things to discover, stories to tell and be excited about but now I'm happy to leave those discoveries and stories to other people.

I live in London now and don't see a permanent return to Sheffield or the North anytime soon,  but it shouldn't have to be like that. There should be interesting,engaging work available throughout the country. Maybe its not realistic that every city could provide a full range of industries so that no one needs to move but surely its not sustainable that London and the South East continues growing still seemingly funded by fat cat bankers at the expense of the the rest of the country. I haven't the faintest idea how to achieve this.

Maybe it will takes more initiatives similar to the BBC move to Salford Quays. Maybe it needs the politicians in Westminster to take a stand and come up with policies that will improve the rest of the country even if its to the detriment of the Capital.

I just really hope that in fifty years time we aren't looking back to the early 21st Century wondering why no one thought to make a changes before it all went wrong.

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